Earlier Entries
Liver And A Nice Chianti
Liver with Gin and Lime Sauce, Artichoke and Sweet Potato Gratin

Liver. The great divider. Some people hate it and others detest it. But you can't beat it for price.

Browsing my local Fucking Supermarket™ the other evening after work. As you do. As you have to do 'cos all the other shops are shut when you leave work and have time to do any shopping. Anyway, I was somewhat surprised to come across a pack of calves' liver which had somehow escaped their sanitisation of any meat product which looks too red or meaty and might terrify the shoppers. And for the bargain price of 50p/lb as well. So naturally I snapped it up.

I was equally surprised when my friend Flora expressed an interest in helping me eat it when I happened to mention what I was having for dinner. Girls eating liver? Unheard of!

Once upon a time you would see great shoals of these ruddy little fellows lying panting and glistening on the local butchers marble slab alongside all the other beautiful inside-out animals, just begging to be slurped down like oysters. Unfortunately now that all the butchers have become tattoo parlours and all flesh is grown in white Styrofoam vats in Fucking Supermarket™ chill cabinets, good honest offal is hard to come by. And not best quality either.
Which is a pity because treated right it's delicious stuff.

Firstly you don't want to cook it the way your Mum did - poaching it to death until it resembles crumbly shoe leather. Overcooked liver is just awful, it must be pink and ruddy on the inside.
Secondly it really needs a robust sauce to go with it (not Bisto diarrhoea), otherwise it's difficult to get over the coppery offalness of the stuff. I rather like sauces based on gin or juniper berries, and often I'll just flame off my flash-fried liver with a couple of tablespoons of gin and finish with a squeeze of lime rather than go to the trouble of making a sauce. It's quick and easy and it's quite lovely, but today I was keen to try this particularly weird-looking Carved Angel recipe for Gin and Lime sauce.

Oh, and thirdly you need to pay some attention to the type and quality of the liver. It does need to be fresh, and while calf (or veal) and lamb liver are very tender with a fairly mild flavour, pig liver is quite a bit stronger (and sometimes I think rather fishy as if they were feeding their pigs fish-food or something!) and ox liver is like a meat turnip. So it's definitely a case of horse livers for courses.

Encouraged by online suggestions I accompanied my liver with a sweet potato and globe artichoke gratin Yes, Globe Artichoke. I know - I thought I might have misread it too. And maybe that's how the recipe started out, but it actually works well! My liver dinner was enjoyed by all.

Now that my Mum's visiting to restock my freezer with Spicey Cottage curries though - my Buddhist, Piscatorian Mum - I had to hide all the liver.
However, since I still had about half my gratin left, I reworked it with a new layer of cheese and breadcrumbs actually it was nicer the second time around - the sweet potato was better cooked and I made more effort to mix the topping so it didn't just set like a cheese hat and served it with a vegetarian version of my mushrooms in chocolate sauce. The vegetable stock doesn't thicken the sauce as well, but the flavour was just fine, and I improved my methodology slightly by using a whole Ancho chilli rather than the chilli powder and avoiding blending up the onions into the sauce - which had given it a rather coarse texture.

Sweet Potato and Globe Artichoke Gratin
main side veg
Yes, Globe Artichokes. I figure somewhere someone misheard Jerusalem Artichokes but then just decided to go with it.

Serves 4

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 globe artichokes, hearts cut into 8 or about two jars of artichoke hearts, drained
  • 4 sweet potatoes, peeled, sliced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 30g butter
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 2 or 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 200-300 ml white wine
  • 100 ml vegetable stock
  • salt and black pepper
  • 50g Parmesan, grated
    Or other hard cheese if you're vegetarian.
    I used up some Castello Präst, which worked fine
  • 50g breadcrumbs
Fill a mixing bowl with cold water and half the lemon juice.
Using a bread knife, trim away the artichoke leaves right down to the hearts. Cut the hearts into quarters and then halve the quarters. Using a small sharp knife remove any hairs from the artichoke hearts. Place the artichoke wedges in the lemon water to prevent them from discolouring. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 2 cm thick slices.
In a large frying pan heat the olive oil and butter. Add the chopped onion and then the garlic, and cook gently over a very low heat.
Meanwhile, bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the sweet potato slices to the boiling water and blanch for four minutes. Remove the sweet potato with a slotted spoon.
Add the artichoke wedges to the boiling water and blanch for 4 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon.
Keep the liquid simmering to make up into a stock, adding the artichoke leaves and any extra vegetable or herb parts you have lying around and half a teaspoon of Marmite if you want it a bit more robust.

Meanwhile, add the blanched sweet potato and artichoke to the frying pan. Turn up the heat and add the white wine. Bring to the boil. Reduce by half.
Once reduced, add 2 ladlefuls of the vegetable cooking water if necessary, just enough to cover the vegetables in the frying pan. Simmer partly covered for 10 minutes until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the sweet potato on the edge of breaking apart.
Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Transfer the vegetables and any liquid to a heatproof serving dish.

Preheat the grill. Mix together the breadcrumbs and the grated Parmesan cheese.
Sprinkle the remaining lemon juice over the vegetable gratin. Spread with the mixed cheese and breadcrumbs. Flash-cook under the grill for 1 minute until golden.
Pretty good.
Since I couldn't find fresh artichokes (are they the last genuinely seasonal vegetable in this country?), I used (almost) two 300g jars of drained artichoke hearts in oil (each yielding 160g). Well, first I used one jar, but that really wasn't enough. And it's much nicer when you get the balance right. I didn't use any of the vegetable stock first time, just simmered in 300ml of white wine until it was mostly absorbed. But when I reheated for the second round I added enough stock to moisten the vegetables.
The Days of Endless Curries
Endless Curries

It's a problem, having a meal of curries. Because the leftovers don't really work with anything else but curries.
So you have to make another curry dish to bulk out the leftovers, then you've got more leftover curry for which you need to make more curry to go with.
Before you know it you're trapped in an endless cycle of curries from which, nice as they may be, there seems to be no escape.

This is where I've found myself after cooking Anuschka her tandoori chicken kebabs last weekend.
Since I already had a decent amount of leftover marinade I decided to roll it on into a marinade for Pat Chapman's version of Chicken Makhani with the addition of a bit more of his marinade ingredients Though not the yoghurt. I didn't have any yoghurt so I threw in some fromage frais instead. and of course a bit more chicken.
After a couple more days of kebabs, I finally got around to the full-blooded makhani with two legs and thighs. Pretty nice it was too, though it might have been even better with the juices from a whole roast chicken or two!
If as I did you end up with a gallon of spare makhani sauce, you can put it to good use as a nice accompaniment to pork chops.

I've also been working my way through a couple of mushroom recipes now that I've started, re-running a rather nice Balti mushrooms in creamy garlic sauce, mainly by adding more garlic, and trying out the novelty Mushroom and Okra Curry with its rather more successful Mango Relish.
Since I then had a bonus mango on hand I also tried a mango dal which turned out to be just delicious.

Flora popped around to help out too, and was particularly complimentary of the rice I had made by first frying a half teaspoon of brown mustard seeds, yellow mustard seeds, a generous teaspoon of sesame seeds, and then throwing in a teaspoon or two of fenugreek (methi) leaves. She was lucky to arrive after I'd finished off all my fenugreek seed rice. Which wasn't quite so complementary!

My cute landlady Aline has also just arrived back from India, full of stories of Gobi Manchurian and Mirchi Vada, and amazingly enough still keen on eating curries, so I've been working up a Saag Paneer, only without the paneer, seeing as how she's allergic to cow. Cashew nuts seemed like a likely alternative and led to a very satisfying Saag Kaju.

Makahni Pork Chops
curry main meat
Pork chops in a makhani sauce
After you've wolfed down all your Makhani-style Chicken Kebabs, gobbled your roast Makhani Chicken and you've still got a gallon of makhani sauce left over, you can use it to flavour some pork chops.

Serves 1

  • 1 pork chop
  • 2-3 tablespoons spare makhani sauce
  • 1 tablespoon yoghurt
Take the chop out of the fridge at least half an hour before cooking to let it come up to room temperature.
Get your frying pan good and hot.
Grease the chop with oil and a generous grinding of sea salt.
Slap the chop into the pan for about a minute until it's nice and charred, then flip it over and brown the other side. Try and make sure that the lovely delicious fat along the edge gets a nice charring too - you might be able to do this by pressing the chop against the edge of the pan, or rolling the chop vertically for a time.
Turn down the heat. Add the makhani sauce and some yoghurt and cook gently until the chop is cooked through.
Serve with any herbs you have handy.
Yum. Makhani sauce goes just as well with pork as it does with chicken!

Anuschka bought me the curry book that doesn't exist for her birthday. (I know - don't even try to make sense of that.) And I volunteered to make her any recipe she chose from it.
She picked the slightly long-winded but very tasty tandoori chicken kebabs which I finally got around to making for her and her son Willy today.
Fortunately I had some extra tandoori paste leftover from another meal, so it simplified the preparation slightly, but I still needed to get the chicken marinating on Thursday night to give it a good 48 hours to season.

Since I was up anyway I reduced some khoya whilst jointing the chicken, (you get just enough time to skin and de-bone a chicken thigh or leg before the milk starts to stick) and used it to make some kulfi for our dessert.
I wasn't really pleased with it to be honest, although the taste was good, the texture was very dense and heavy. (Though oddly it seemed lighter when it warmed up again!) Also the khoya seemed lumpier than I remembered. Whether that was down to not stirring often enough (read continuously!) or whether I need to stir through some cream at the end as several other recipes do I'm not sure.

Anuschka is terrified of hot spices (does that make it odd for her to buy me a curry book?) so I made a (fairly) gentle saag paneer side dish. 5½/10 Also I've never done much mushroom currying, so I fancied trying out a very mild coconut mushroom curry: coconut milk and mushrooms - what's not to like? meh! Well, it sounds a lot more tasty than it turns out.
I used the whey from my homemade paneer and some of the leftover coconut milk as liquid for the basmati rice, and that was extremely tasty - so the mushroom dish wasn't a complete loss!

I'd make the chicken again, and maybe try and spice up the saag paneer, but the kulfi definitely needs work and I don't think I'd bother with the mushrooms.
In fact I've been dabbling with another creamy mushroom curry to have with the leftovers (together with a banana chutney which didn't make it to the first meal) that seems more promising.

It did cross my mind to wonder if Anuschka had bought me the cookbook in expectation of my volunteering to cook her some tasty curries from it, but Aline assures me that Anuschka just wouldn't be that devious.
I'm not convinced though - she's a woman after all.

Banana Chutney
sauce pickle veg vegan
I was impressed with this chutney at David Bann's after Mum and I had it with her meal there. I wanted to have a go at it myself, but wasn't quite sure about the waitresses' instructions on how to ferment the bananas, so I emailed David for some more details and he very kindly sent this reply:
I think the waitress was confusing the banana chutney with something else on the menu, we do some fermenting but not the chutney.
It's a fresh and quick chutney to make, sliced ripe bananas with lime juice, a little sugar, a splash of water but first gently toast the aromatic spices in a dry pan. We use ground coriander, cardamom, cumin and fennel seeds but you could use whatever spices you like. Add the banana, lime juice, sugar and water and cook gently for only 5 mins or so removing from the heat before the bananas break up too much. Easy!

And here's my first attempt...

Makes plenty for 4

  • 1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
  • 2 bananas, sliced
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • juice of 1 lime or maybe try less
  • ½ cup water or as required
Dry-roast some aromatic spices (coriander, cardamom, cumin and fennel seeds for example) then grind them to a powder. Or just use some curry powder you made earlier. Add the sugar, lime juice, sliced bananas, chopped chilli and enough water to cover. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes until the banana just begins to break up. Add more water if necessary.
Quite tasty, though mine didn't seem to be as good as David's :(
It was a bit too limey (maybe use half a lime) and not bananay enough. Perhaps wait for the bananas to ripen?

Saag Paneer
Spinach and Curd Cheese Curry
curry side veg
Spinach and curd cheese Indian curry
I finally got around to trying something from this Reza Mahammad cookbook I got as a Christmas present from Mum. About 10 years ago!.

Reza warns about the rubbery fried cubes of cheese he often suffers in restaurants, and suggests grating shop-bought block paneer rather than chopping it to avoid that particular horror.
I, of course, made my own. Which is too soft to grate but crumbles nicely when chopped up.
Plus you get to use the whey to make your rice.

Serves 4

  • 450g/1 lb spinach, blanched and chopped
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 tsps whole cumin seeds
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or 3
  • a pinch of turmeric
  • 100g/3½ oz paneer, crumbled or coarsely grated
  • 100ml/3½ fl oz vegetable stock
  • salt
  • 50ml/1¾ fl oz fresh cream
  • 1 tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
Wash the spinach in plenty of cold water, letting any sand sink to the bottom, then rinse and drain well in a colander. Put in a large pan, cover with a lid, and place on a medium heat for 2-3 minutes. The spinach will cook in the steam made by the water clinging to its leaves. As soon as it begins to wilt, stir the top leaves to the bottom. As soon as all the leaves are wilted, remove the pan from the heat and drain, squeezing out as much liquid as possible. Allow the spinach to cool, press out the remaining liquid to get the spinach as dry as possible, and roughly chop.

Heat the oil in a saucepan until hot, then add the cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle. Now add the onion and cook until it becomes translucent in colour. Add the garlic and continue to cook for a further couple of minutes, then add the paneer and vegetable stock. Adjust the seasoning, pour the cream on to the saag paneer, garnish with the coriander, and serve immediately.
Not bad. A bit underwhelming though. Maybe more spice?
Shrove Thursday

Pancake what-day?
Well - Annick thinks it's Pancake Thursday, so that's what we're going for this year. Snot the same without kids anyhow. Unless you count Flora :)

Annick organised a Breton pancake party, which seem to be the same things as crêpes to me. Which is to say, pancakes which are cooked with their toppings in the frying pan at the end.
Annick had prepared a vast selection of cheeses, ham, tomatoes, cooked onions and mushrooms to choose from. And that was just for the savoury course.
She'd also gotten some goose eggs (or really big duck eggs) from a local farm so we had a couple of our pancakes with a sunny-side-up massive fried egg on top. They were absolutely delicious. And massive. With massive yolks
Apparently it's common in Brittany to have an egg cooked miroir on top of your crêpe (or rather galette - if you're using buckwheat), but you'd need astonishingly thin pancakes for that to work, and a normal-sized egg too. So we fried ours separately.
Did I mention how big the eggs were?

Hardly necessary for me to bring some extra toppings then, but I did anyway.
For one thing I've been wanting to invent something combining chocolate and mushrooms and this seemed like a good opportunity.
For another I quite fancied some prawns and I know that Annick has a horror of all maritime comestibles. Which is a bit sad for a sailor.

For pudding pancakes we had Nutella, strawberries, bananas, lemon juice and sugar to choose amongst.
Not surprisingly few of us made it to pudding!

Annick went to the trouble of adding the toppings to the pancakes in the pan and cooking them there for a while - I quite like the way this melts the toppings into the pancakes, particularly the cheese. It's nice to have the sugar actually dissolved into the lemon juice rather than just crunching against your fillings, but it's quite a bit more faff.

I can't see it catching on.

Mine, Mine, Mine
With a bit of help.
Mushrooms in Chocolate Sauce
side sauce ingredient veg
I've been thinking about combining chocolate and mushrooms for a while now, and making a pancake filling seemed as good an opportunity as any to develop the idea.

I must admit I did spot this version on the intertubes, but I didn't fancy the red wine much, so I had a go at a whiter, cream-based gloopy version. Though I'm wondering if it might be better to do without the onion.

Serves 4

  • butter or olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • a pinch of hot chilli powder optional
  • about 2 cups chicken stock or whatever stock you have to hand
  • ½ cup Madeira
  • 2 tablespoons double cream
  • 1 dried Ancho chilli or 1 teaspoon Ancho chilli powder
  • half-dozen mushrooms I used chestnut mushrooms
  • 10-15g very dark chocolate, grated
  • butter
  • parsley for garnish
Sweat the onions and garlic until they soften without colouring. Add a pinch of chilli powder if you fancy some extra heat.
Add the stock with the whole Ancho chilli and simmer until the onions start to collapse - about 15 minutes. Chicken stock thickens the sauce more effectively, but a nice vegetable stock enriched with Marmite also worked.
Strain back in to the pan, add back the (cleaned) chilli, and reduce to about ½ cup.
Add the Madeira and reduce until it thickens to a coating consistency, leaving about 2 tablespoons.
Remove the chilli, and strain again if any of its seeds have escaped.
Remove from the heat, add the cream, then whisk in the grated chocolate (I used some 100% cacao for this).
Keep warm.

Wipe the mushrooms and quarter them, or slice them fatly. Fry quickly in a little butter until they brown nicely, mix with the sauce and garnish with chopped parsley.
Delicious. And well received. Even by the ladies!

First time around I blended up the onion and garlic with the liquids, and the flavour was very good but I didn't like the texture too much.
I think it's better to strain them out and simply reduce the stock and Madeira to thicken the sauce.

If you wanted to serve it as a side dish, rather than a pancake filling, you should just quarter the mushrooms. And I can testify that they go well with steak and potatoes. Probably chips too.

You need a little bit of chilli bite, but not too much, so adjust your chilli choices accordingly.
Using a whole chilli worked out about right heat-wise, but Ancho chilli powder needs a little extra kick.
I guess you could take or leave the cream.
Pheasant and Butterbean Stew

Well, it's the end of pheasant shooting season, so last chance for that game dinner I'd promised Flora.

She reckoned she could get pheasant from her hunting people (ah, to have hunting people!), and I promised to cook what they shot, but it seems either they have really bad aim, or are greedier than expected, and Flora ended up buying her pheasant from the butcher like a plebeian.
It's all the same to the chef I guess.

I had some difficulty deciding how best to cook it though - ideally I would attempt to channel Keith Floyd whilst making a long slow pot-roast with red wine and pig's trotters, but this being a Thursday evening, and seeing as how Flora is actually bringing the pheasant with her and expecting dinner sometime tonight that isn't feasible.
So I decided to try a poaching approach instead - based around my Mum's Fasolia which I thought would complement the pheasant nicely.
A Pheasolia if you will.
It worked quite well I thought.

I made up some apple mashed potato to go with, but to be honest it made it awkward to eat. I think bread would have worked better. What about apple bread?

I was in two minds about whether to add some chorizo to the beans, and throw in some parsley to finish, but in the end I forgot about the parsley and decided to skip the chorizo to see how it came out pure.

In any case I had plenty of leftovers so I fried up some chorizo slices and threw them into it when I reheated it to try the best of both worlds. I even remembered the parsley this time!
The leftover mash made a really good leftover stew thickener, and the result was extremely tasty. I'm not sure which I preferred to be honest, it's a deeper, darker, richer stew with the chorizo, but on the other hand I quite liked the lemony freshness of my original.

You pays yer money, you makes yer choice.

Pheasant Poached in a Butterbean Stew
main fowl stew
Pheasant poached in a butterbean and celery stew
A sort of pheasant Fasolia

Serves 4

  • 1 pheasant or 2 if you're hungry and have a big pot
  • 1 lb butter beans or whatever beans you fancy
  • 2 heads celery
  • 1 (500ml) bottle dry cider
  • Calvados
  • chicken or game stock
  • chorizo optional
  • parsley optional
Soak the beans overnight, if you want to speed up the cooking process.
Make up some celery stock: simmer a chopped head of celery and a chopped onion until the vegetables soften. Then strain out the stock.
Though if you can't be bothered you can just skip the celery stock and use chicken stock. Or water.

Meanwhile, bring the beans just to the boiling point in a large pot of water, skim away the scum, then drain and rinse the beans in cold water. Put them back in the pot, add a few bay leaves, a pinch or two of thyme leaves, a bottle (500ml) of cider and push in the pheasant. Cover with celery stock and chicken stock, if you have any. Bring to the boil, covered, and simmer gently with the lid slightly open to concentrate the flavours.
If you want to add some chorizo slices to the beans you can - it will make deeper, richer stew, but you'll lose some of the lightness.

Simmer for about 45 minutes, then remove the pheasant and set it aside to cool.
Leave the beans simmering, give them a taste and season them if they need it.
When the beans are softened (maybe another 15 minutes), add about half their volume of celery in fat slices - most of a head. Continue to cook until the celery is soft: 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile separate the pheasant legs and breasts. Cut between the thigh and breast, pull the leg away until the joint pops then cut it free.
Slice along the breastbone to free the breast, then cut around it prying gently with your fingers: the breast should come away whole.
Heat a generous amount of butter in a wide frying pan, add a little olive oil (to help stop the burning) and quickly brown up the legs and breasts (skin still on) on both sides, then pour in a generous measure of calvados, let it bubble away to coat the pheasant, then set the meat aside to rest.

To serve:
Stir a generous dollop of olive oil through the beans to coat them, ladle into bowls, drizzle with lemon juice, place some pieces of pheasant on top (slice them up nicely if you like), pour over any of the calvados deglaze, and eat with some crusty country bread. Or apple mash if you're a masochist.
A pretty good way to cook the pheasant - I poached mine for an hour, and the legs were perfect, but I thought the breasts were a little dry. Try poaching for 45 minutes.
I had some parsley ready to stir through the beans at the end, but I forgot to add it. I'm not sure it would have helped, particularly as I made it without chorizo.
Sweet and Sour Flora
Flora texts me to find out what we're having for dinner:
Karl Karl I can tell u haven't had any for a while. Hmmmm how about healthy and lots of colour warm maybe something with sweet/savoury or sour.

Obviously you can't tell from the context, but I'm pretty sure she was talking about Chinese food.

So to accomodate her simple request I looked out a Sweet and Sour Pork dish, only with chicken. Since I'd already bought a chicken for something else.

I figure that being orange it will bring lots of colour if I serve it hot it will definitely provide the warm and being a main course it should also be pretty savoury (exactly what main courses aren't savoury then Flora?).

I'll leave Flora to provide the sweet which just leaves the healthy for which I pull out a sharp, aromatic Crab and Sweetcorn Soup from Ken Hom to start. It must be healthy - it's a soup right?

As usual when feeding Flora - time is of the essence, fortunately the soup is pretty quick to prepare, especially if you buy the crab prepared (as I did) or tinned.

Job Done.

Crab and Sweetcorn Soup
soup fish
The white pepper is a critical ingredient, but be careful not to overdo it. You can substitute ground black pepper if you must.

This doesn't have the lemony flavour nor the toothiness of chicken and sweetcorn soup, but has its own definite sharp and sour character.

Serves 6

  • 1 lb corn on the cob, or 10 oz canned or frozen corn
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 5 cups good quality ready-made chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper though you might want to check the taste before adding it all
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch, blended with 2 teaspoons water
  • 8 oz fresh or frozen crabmeat
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions, to garnish
If you are using fresh corn, peel and wash the cobs, then remove the kernels with a sharp knife or cleaver.
I cooked my corn cobs first, then I roughly puréed about half with some stock to give a bit of texture to the soup.
You should end up with about 1½ cups corn.

Mix the egg white and sesame oil together in a small bowl or measuring cup and set aside.
Bring the stock to a boil in a large pot and add the corn.
Simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered, then add the rice wine or sherry, light soy sauce, ginger, salt, pepper, sugar, and dribble in the cornstarch mixture.
Bring back to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.
Add the crabmeat.
Immediately afterwards, slowly pour in the egg white mixture in a steady stream, stirring slowly all the time.
Transfer the soup to a tureen or individual bowls and garnish with the scallions.
It's a bit brown-looking, but it tastes really good. I'm not sure where I'd go to improve it to be honest.
You can also use lobster instead of crab, but the result is nowhere near as good.
Fiesta Peruana

Today one of those painfully earnest middle-class middle-aged knightsbridge women on Radio 4's Woman's Hour taught me how to pronounce quinoa - like the cry of a Tourette's baby: 'kin WAH!.
Useful stuff, and just in time for the latest visit from Aline, my cute landlady, and another excuse for a (distinctly wholemeal) knees-up.

Aline loves to spend her time hanging out in Amazonian tree-tops, and since she's been trapped indoors for many months now writing up her foot-thick doctoral thesis, it's definitely time to break out and Party Party Peruvian Styley!

It's turned out to be our biggest gathering yet - partly 'cos almost everyone we invited actually showed up for a change you know who you all are and partly 'cos we also made it a surprise birthday party for Aline's friend Anuschka not that it stopped us forcing her to skivvy for us in the kitchen. So her friends had to come. Hah!

Twenty three people to feed and water - so we went buffet style, mostly cold food which seems to be quite the Peruvian thing, and just a couple of hot stews: One meat and one of those 'kin WAH things - an Inca favourite. Allegedly.

I played only a minor role in the cooking this time - I catered for the non-vegetarians with a pork adobo and a rack of crackling, I under-cooked some peruvian-style rice to go with, and then busied myself with jugs of Cuban Mojitos to get the cocktails rolling.
OK, not exactly authentically Peruvian, and we had planned on more native Pisco sours, but they're kind of fiddly to prepare and we had only limited amounts of Pisco, so we decided to save those for later when things had relaxed a little and we had some time to ge the food processor out.
Pretty hard stuff to get - Pisco. A kind of Peruvian grape poteen, with a fairly distinctive odor of herbal sweat, it's not widely stocked, though you can order it on the internet for around £25 (promptly delivered too I have to say). Or you can buy it from Harvey Nichols for £105 [Tamaya's Gran Pisco is sadly no longer available there :( ].
You do the math.

The sours went down rather smoothly, when they finally put in their appearance, but I guess the party was pretty much drunk out by that point, because we ended up with half a jug that we just couldn't get rid of, not helped by Jenny's mum Liiisa refusing to have anything to do with them!
So I stuck the leftovers in my ice cream machine's ready-frozen sleeve and put it straight back in the freezer. I thought it might freeze smoothly without needing to be stirred being mostly egg white foam. But I was wrong. The result is a crunchy frozen Pisco mousse. Not awful, but no substitute for ice cream I'm afraid.

My Mojitos, meanwhile, met with almost universal female disapproval. Too sour apparently. I reluctantly muddled in more sugar. Still too sour. So I added a bit more sugar. Then still more sugar. Finally the girls were drinking slightly alcoholic sugar syrup and still complaining, and when we collected all the glasses at the end to wash what did we find at the bottom? Yup - a thick sticky layer of undissolved sugar.
Lady wussies. They should stick to their Baileys!

Still it seems there are advantages to having a party for mostly teetotal, non-smoking, vegetarian, mothers. They didn't completely trash the joint and they all went home at a reasonable time. Dammit - I must be getting old!

Speaking of glasses - how is it that despite laying out a whole stock of paper plates and plastic knives, forks, and cups, every single piece of cutlery and crockery that we own ended up dirty?
I guess we failed to padlock them away!

I was going to make some deep-fried fritter-like things for pudding half-way throught the party, but was overcome by an attack of common sense and for once we ended up making absolutely all of the food in advance.

Here are the few simple dishes we made to entertain the masses:
Cold Courses
Mushroom Ceviche
Haddock Ceviche
Julia's contribution - and tons of it too!
Causa Rellana - with tuna fish
Causa Rellana - vegan style
Quinoa Stew
Sweet Potatoes
Boiled sweet corn

Hot Stuff
Adobo de Chancho
Pork Crackling
Peruvian Rice

Mazamorra morada
The pudding which never happened.
Birthday Cake

Pisco Sour

We borrowed a handy bilingual book of Peruvian cuisine from Aline's friend Julia who was also good enough to bring along the haddock ceviche, Which she didn't make following the book. Slightly suspiciously I thought? and Aline did a good job of trawling the web for vegetarian-friendly versions of peruvian classics, making good use of a site called, appropriately enough, Peru Food

And a good time was had by all.
All that's left is for Aline to sober up, bind her massive thesis and get a real job!
Season's Eatings
Christmas Dinner

Yes, once again 'tis the season to stuff your bird and stuff your face.
We like a traditional goose for the Christmas bird in our house; lovely succulent meat, never dry. Plus you get about a year's worth of beautiful fat for your roasties. Anyway, if it was good enough for the Cratchits it's good enough for us!

Following our traditions I picked the stuffing and the starter. I quite liked the sound of Nigella's gingerbread stuffing so we went with that. We were slightly worried that it might turn out too sweet, so we replaced some of the gingerbread with regular bread, but to be honest it was still a bit overwhelmingly sweet and sticky. I think I might go back to something a bit more traditional next year.

Unusually this year we also had a roast duck.
Since my brother decided to have himself a family we are now forced to get dressed (get dressed! On Christmas day! The horror!) and treck the mile upon mile (yes: two miles) to his place for Christmas Dinner. So fearing there wouldn't be enough leftover bird to feed two families for one entire day, Mum and I decided to have a second Christmas dinner at home on Boxing day with a duck. We were taking no chances.

For starters we made up some of Aidan's goats cheese parcels, which seemed to travel well when Aidan brought them around to my place, but unfortunately Mum ignored all my careful instructions on how to cut up the cheese and instead mashed it to paste before I got the chance to stop her. So they were a bit soggier than I had hoped.

main fowl
A couple of things I relearned this Christmas about making gravy:
  • If you make sure to keep some water in the bottom of the bird's roasting tin you'll get a nice rich dark stock under the layer of fat to make your gravy with. Without the water you might just end up with a burnt crust and unusably bitter fat.
  • Gravy thickens with between 1 and 3 tablespoons of flour fried in an equal volume of fat for each pint of liquid. So a litre of gravy needs 2 tablespoons flour for thin and up to 6 tablespoons for extra thick gravy. If you're using cornstarch then you'll only need about 2 teaspoons per pint.
  • You can finish your gravy with a variety of flavours:
    • orange or lemon juice, or zest
    • port or red wine, Madeira, Marsala, white wine or even cider probably best used to deglaze the roasting tin
    • any other liquor or brandy
    • Worcestershire sauce or mushroom ketchup
    • mustard
    • spices, tomato purée or ketchup possibly best fried with the flour
    • redcurrant jelly, jam, or other preserve
    • garlic and anchovies apparently!
    • marmite or bovril if you're a complete philistine
    • a whisk of butter to add a little gloss
  • Apparently bird roasting times can actually be dramatically less than the standard 20 minutes per pound recommended by cookery writers since the dawn of time. Felicity Cloake even claims to have cooked a 6kg turkey in just two hours - unlikely as that seems. I have to say though, that the low temperature roasting times for our goose were pretty much as advertised. And we used a meat thermometer and everything.
  • goose
  • stuffing
After our Boxing Day leftover goose fry-up, many dinners of leftover cold goose, stand pie and pickle, and many lunches of leftover goose and leftover ham sandwiches, we traditionally finish off the very last bit of bird in Mum's famous pilaf.
It's a bitter-sweet meal - marking as it does the end of Christmas. The delicious end of Christmas.
Nothing left after that but to start working on those leftover mince pies.

Roast Duck
main fowl
Our 6lb duck was just perfect after 2½ hours cooking, with the last half hour at a slightly higher temperature to crisp it up.

Serves 4

  • 1 duck
  • herbs, garlic or fruit for stuffing optional
Pre-heat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.

Untruss the duck and remove the wing tips (if present).
Prick (or slash) the duck skin all over, at about 1" spacing. Make sure to pierce through the skin into the fat layer, but don't penetrate the bird's flesh. This is to make sure that the fat runs out and leaves the bird with a nice crispy skin, without losing any of the meat juices.
If you like you can render away more of the excess fat to start with by either steaming the bird over boiling water for half an hour, or simmering it up for 30 minutes with herbs and vegetables as for making stock.
Pat the bird dry before carrying on with the roasting process.
Rub the skin with salt and pepper and place the duck uncovered, breast up, on a rack over a roasting tin containing a little water (or wine!) (to stop leaking juices from burning so you can use them to make a nice dark gravy).
Reduce the heat to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4 after 15 minutes or so once the fat has started to crackle, and cook the bird for about 20 minutes plus 20 minutes per lb, basting every 20 minutes or so if you like, or the skin is looking a bit dark.
If you like you can turn the bird a couple of times too - we started the bird on it's breast then flipped it onto it's back about halfway - but I'm not convinced it's necessary.
The bird is ready when the juices run clear when penetrated between thigh and breast and the temperature of the thickest part of the bird reaches 75°C/165°F.
You can turn the temperature back up again for 20 minutes at the end to get the skin crispy and golden.
You don't really want to stuff a duck as it will suck in too much fat, but feel free to throw a handful of herbs, garlic, tart cherries, orange or lemon rind or pieces into the cavity to infuse a little flavour.

Gingerbread Stuffing
ingredient side
This makes an edible but very sweet, dense, heavy stuffing.
Very sweet.
A bit too sweet if you ask me.
It might be worth trying with regular bread replacing some of the gingerbread, but I think I'll be doing a different stuffing this time next year.

Fills 1 Goose

  • 500g (3 medium-sized) onions
  • 2 eating apples, peeled and cored
  • 45g butter
  • 1 x 15ml tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 750g streaky bacon
  • zest of 2 clementines/satsumas
  • 2 x 400g gingerbread loaves (such as McVitie's Jamaica ginger cake), loosely crumbled
  • 2 eggs, beaten approx.
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Using a food processor or by hand, finely chop the onions and apples.

Put the butter and oil in a large, wide saucepan over a medium heat and fry the chopped onions and apples until soft, about 10-15 minutes.

Finely chop the bacon in the processor, or by hand, and add this to the softened onion and apple mixture. Cook everything, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes more.

Add the zest of the clementines/satsumas.

Take the pan off the heat and let it cool a little before mixing in the gingerbreadcrumbs. You can let this get properly cold now if you want.

Just before you want to cook the stuffing, add the beaten eggs and pepper,and use it to stuff the cavity of your bird, or cook all of it (or what's left after stuffing your bird) in a buttered baking dish. I don't stuff the bird but put all of my stuffing in a very generously buttered old Le Creuset terrine, with internal dimensions of approx. 25cm x 9cm x 7cm deep.

Bake it in a hot oven (200°C/gas mark 6) with your turkey for about the last 45 minutes. If the stuffing's going into a full oven - which it no doubt is - there should be no need to cover the dish. If the oven is less full, and therefore hotter and less steamy, you could cover with foil for the first 30 minutes.

Let the cooked stuffing sit in its terrine for a good 10 minutes out of the oven before turning it out and slicing it. Or just spoon from the dish if that's less stressful. (I love a slice of this, cold, in a Christmas night or Boxing Day turkey sandwich.)
Sweet and sticky, just like Nigella.
Mince Pies and Misletoe
A Mince Pie

A very merry Christmas to all my reader!
Snowed In Sunday
Winter Wonderland

I Went to visit Doctor Jenny in the arctic wastes of Dundee this weekend.
She's been assiduously trying to lure me up there for weeks now with the promise of fine dining in the Bridgeview Station Restaurant that she's discovered. There may be ulterior motives however - Jenny's new cottage has an AARGA and she's been trying to figure out how to actually use it for anything other than burning toast, so I said I'd bring up something to cook in it.

After she told me some horror stories about roasting a chicken for 6 hours, I decided to make a Raan - since it's already marinated in yoghurt to break down the fibres and soften the meat I figured it would be the most forgiving of time and temperature. Jenny bought an oven thermometer and reckons that here AARGA sits sullenly around 180°C, so I figured a good 3½ hour roasting would do for the joint, plus half an hour R&R (for the joint, not for us. Jenny's not that kind of girl).

AARGAs are funny things. Massive iron blast furnaces of undeterminate and uncontrollable temperatures, Jenny's AARGA started off too hot for the slow cooking of the Leg of Lamb, and ended up too cool to simmer beans. Jenny's AARGA also has only two hobs on top that, though large, are not quite large enough to cook more than half of two pans at the same time.
Since most of my cooking involves frantic last-minute frying that became a bit of a problem, so I had to schedule the hob-work more carefully than usual.
Fortunately keeping things warm is the AARGA's speciality.

On Thursday afternoon I bought a nice leg of lamb from a friendly butcher near my work, having clearly forgotten that legs of lamb are now obscenely expensive. Of course I could have bought a leg sealed into heavy duty plastic bag along with a pint of blood and what looks like semen from a not-so-local supermarket for slightly less, but one does what one can for the remaining independent shops.
I made up a quarter batch of tandoori paste, burnt it whilst frying, threw it away, made up another quarter batch of tandoori paste, then smeared up my Raan and sealed it in about 20 plastic bags before putting it in the boot of my car.
Now my car smells like an Indian takeaway.
I also planned a Kalpna Bainghan Bharta which goes quite well with the leg of lamb, and uses up some of the leftover tandoori paste too. So I puréed up a batch of onions, garlic and ginger to take with me.
You can never be sure what you'll find in Jenny's house.

I figured I'd decide what staple (rice/chapatis/naans) and other dishes I'd make when I got there, and I went for rice (Jenny had a jar of long-grain rice) and a dal (Jenny had a jar of green lentil-pea-things).
We got the lamb in the top oven (uncovered) at 4 o'clock (optimistically announcing dinner for eight), went shopping (Jenny loves shopping), Put the pricked and greased aubergines and onions in the oven about 5:30, got the dal simmering about 6:00 and started frying up the Bharta (which took quite a long time).
I cooked up the rice in some ghee to nicely coat the grains, simmered them covered with twice their quantity of water and a little salt, squeezed onto one of the hobs for five minutes or so until the water had disappeared to the level of rice, then stuck it into the AARGA's warming oven at about 7:15.
The lamb came out to rest at 7:30 (so far so on time!), the augergine and tomatoes went into the bharta and I started frying up the tarka to finish off the dal. Unfortunately after so much cooking effort the poor AARGA had cooled off to tepid, so the tarka took rather longer to caramelize the onions than I had anticipated, and the dal wasn't finished until 8:30. Still, the rice, bharta and raan went onto the table at 8:00 sharp.
Another partial success!

For dessert we used some of the meringues I had left over from Stir-up Sunday (and which I had re-baked to try and dry them out some) to make a messy Eton. And we learned that it isn't a good idea to mix in the meringues too early lest they dissolve completely into the cream and fruit.

We had planned a nice balmy 707 sail on Sunday, so we got up at 7:00 to set off in good time.
We had not planned on finding the first snows of winter piling up on Jenny's doorstep and covering all the land, and we had not planned on getting trapped on a steep icy hill with sliding cars blocking our progress ahead and behind. Eventually after a Landrover appeared and towed the cars out of our way, we gave up and returned to Jenny's for a second breakfast.
So we discovered two things:
  1. Jenny was wise to have just bought a 4x4 if she ever wants to leave her home in the winter months.
  2. 4x4 vehicles are not magic, and may still do massive skids narrowly missing trees and drainage ditches if you take icy corners too fast.
I set off out again on my own after second breakfast to try and make the second yacht race at Port Edgar, Jenny having mustered some pathetic excuse about having work to do; but things were still not exactly plain sailing (HA!). I made it as far as the M90 without incident (by a longer but flatter route), only to find that the motorway was closed due, apparently, to an overturned horsebox. So I had to wend my way through the backways and byways down to the marina, consoled only by the thought of a motorway strewn with skidding, sliding horses like baby giraffes wearing roller skates.
Hey - I get my jollies where I can!

curry side veg
Spicy Indian lentil soup
Here's a Dal I made up from the stuff at the back of Jenny's cupboard.
Obviously you can use any legumes you like, with any spices you like - I fancied the small jar of aniseedy powder I found labelled 5 spices though it wasn't any I recognised.
You can also add any vegetables you like to the lentils (cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes), use any flavoured liquid (stock, coconut milk, juice, wine), and fry tomato purée with your tarka if you fancy.
There are probably as many Dals in the world as there are lentils.
Ok, pans of lentils.

Serves 8

  • 2 cups lentils/beans/peas I used some un-labelled split green peas. Though they might have been green lentils
  • 2-3" fresh ginger, peeled, sliced into fat disks
  • 2-3 fresh chillies, whole or sliced
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • For the Tarka:
  • 6 cardamom seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 2 onions or equivalent shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon that aniseedy mixed-spice powder you found at the back of the cupboard

  • To Serve:
  • spoonful or two of yoghurt, or lemon juice, or vinegar
  • fresh coriander to serve
Wash your lentils well and pick over to remove any boulders.
Cover with water in a fairly large pot and bring to the boil.
Skim away any foam which rises, then add the slices of ginger, crushed garlic cloves, chillies deseed a couple of chillies and slice them in if you want the Dal hotter, and simmer gently for 1-2 hours depending on the lentils. You want the beans to be on the verge of falling apart.

To Serve:
Before serving make the Tarka:
Heat a couple of tablespoons of ghee and add the cardamom seeds for a bit, then the smaller seeds until they sizzle and release their aroma.
Add the sliced onions and fry gently until they turn golden and caramalize this can take a while - watch they don't burn!
Meanwhile crush up some of the lentils in the pan to make a bit of sauce, adjust the consistency with more water if necessary,
adjust the salt, add some yoghurt and chopped coriander and stir through.

When the onions are ready, add the powders, stir briefly, then pour the hot Tarka over the lentils so it sizzles, and cover to contain the delicious flavours.
Warn your guest not to eat the whole cardamoms or ginger slices. Unless they want to.
I quite liked the touch of yoghurt to lift the flavours.
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